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Goodbye Jesus

Reason For Obtaining Knowledge


SEEtheScorn

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I've been having a discussion with a Christian on a topic I started: Reason vs. Faith. I intended it to be a pretty simple discussion, because I was interested in talking it out after having read "Atheism: The Case Against God" by George H. Smith. Now I'm over my head and confused. And as he said, rightly, "Confusion is the enemy of purposeful thought."

 

Basically, he's positing that reason is not the only way to obtain knowledge.

 

For now, however, the epistemological question of whether reason alone is adequate to reach knowledge needs to be addressed.

 

The answer: it is not.

This is so for a variety of reasons. To begin with reason does not prove that anything actually exists. The key words are in bold: prove and actually. Why? Reason is a negative proof-test for truth; that is, while reason can tell me which in a series of statements is false, it cannot affirm which is correct.

 

For example, the statement: "I do not exist."

Reason applies the Laws of Logic and determines this must be false because it contradicts the law of noncontradiction. It takes an "I" to deny your own existence. However, though reason has shown that denying one's existence is actually undeniable it has not, and cannot, prove that my existence is logically necessary (is actual; in other words, it must exist by necessity).

 

Thus rationalists make a false leap from thought to reality; from the possible to the actual.

 

Etc etc. He actually wrote quite a bit, and we've been having this discussion for quite a while. But it's pig-latin to me. I don't get it anymore than someone who hasn't studied theology understands theological terminology. I've been trying to discus it, and either we actually agree and just haven't gotten to that realization, or he's making a point I don't understand.

 

He says the alternative mode for obtaining knowledge is "unaffirmability, and undeniability." But how is this different from reason? They certainly aren't synonymous with faith so I don't understand why we're having the discussion.

 

For testing the legitimacy of world views: unaffirmability and undeniability. Once a world view has been established the principle of system coherency determines which version of a given world view is correct.

 

I dunno. Someone who's able help me sort through what he's saying? =/

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I dunno. Someone who's able help me sort through what he's saying? =/

For starters, he's implying that knowledge of existence cannot be proven. That, IMO, is tantamount to solipsism.

 

That is, he is adopting a position that he knows is ridiculous and untenable, that we cannot prove we exist (or, by extension, that others exist), in order to prove that we "accept it on faith."

 

This is silly. Existence is axiomatic. It is a given. Just as there are mathematical axioms that we accept because they cannot be proven directly, we accept existence.

 

Once existence has been accepted as real, then one can "test" to see if one exists in any number of ways. Is this a dream, or is this real? Pinch yourself, check memory, engage others, etc.

 

"I think, therefore I am." Descartes said it that way, but that is only the start.

 

Incidentally, faith will get you nowhere because faith presupposes existence. "To question your existence, proves your existence."

 

Also, the existence question doesn't get anyone closer to any being or entity; it is more like the caterpillar that is asked, "How do you know which leg to move next?" which then leaves him unable to walk.

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I mentioned that he was heading into solipsism and nihilism, he said he was doing it only to prove that reason was not a reliable method, or not always correct. He says that establishing the universe as a given is based off of something other than logic and reason.

 

Then the whole think about undeniability and unaffirmability. Which I still don't understand how they differ from what reason is. I've been consenting in the discussion too much just because I don't get what he's saying, other than the sheer impracticability of it

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I mentioned that he was heading into solipsism and nihilism, he said he was doing it only to prove that reason was not a reliable method, or not always correct. He says that establishing the universe as a given is based off of something other than logic and reason.

 

Then the whole think about undeniability and unaffirmability. Which I still don't understand how they differ from what reason is. I've been consenting in the discussion too much just because I don't get what he's saying, other than the sheer impracticability of it

"Something other than logic and reason"? Illogic and unreason?

 

It sounds like he is twisting meanings of "faith" to suit his purposes, and deliberately confusing the meanings to confuse you.

 

I have faith that the sun will "rise" tomorrow. It always has. It can be demonstrated based on evidence that it has in the past. We must "assume" (have "faith") that it will tomorrow. That is a "trust" based on experience and reason. To extend that to something of which we have no knowledge or evidence is a fallacy.

 

It is known as a fallacy of equivocation which consists in employing the same word in two or more senses.

 

Faith = Trust (expectation based on prior experience) and Faith = firm belief in something for which there is no proof

 

Existence (e.g. of the universe or ourselves) is confirmed by experience. We can see it, touch it, smell it, and remember it.

 

The universe may be undeniable, but it is certainly "affirmable."

 

Sooner or later, he'll turn into the "but if you have to have faith that the universe exists, then you have faith in God because..."

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I'm hoping it doesn't lead to that last sentence. =P It's been one of the nicest conversations I've had with a Xtian thus far, and I'd hate to have it end with such a silly conclusion as that.

 

I thought I was understanding it right, the terminology was just making my head swim a little. And then denying me my understanding of the words and saying I'm wrong, or that somehow it's really that necessary to "realize" that reason can't give necessity to existence. Or whatever he's trying to say...

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I'm hoping it doesn't lead to that last sentence. =P It's been one of the nicest conversations I've had with a Xtian thus far, and I'd hate to have it end with such a silly conclusion as that.

 

I thought I was understanding it right, the terminology was just making my head swim a little. And then denying me my understanding of the words and saying I'm wrong, or that somehow it's really that necessary to "realize" that reason can't give necessity to existence. Or whatever he's trying to say...

It's a foot in the door argument if I've ever seen one. Can't trust reason, so...

 

It's similar to the arguments from Pascal in Pensee's. The famous Pascal Wager follows after he "demonstrates" that one cannot trust reason, but then reason is really all we have to make sense of the world. "The wager builds on the theme of other Pensées where Pascal systematically dismantles the notion that we can trust reason, especially in the areas of religion." If he follows Pensees "strategy" then the wager may come up eventually. I guess you'll have to play the game to find out.

 

I've read some good books on the subject, and I'm not much into philosophy, but George Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God deals with differences between reason and faith much better than I can.

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"Basically, he's positing that reason is not the only way to obtain knowledge."

 

Another way to knowledge is experience. It's not necessarily logical or reasonable, it just is.

 

Example: The car suddenly hydroplaned and you learned that you perhaps should have slowed down a bit on that bit of road. Every other time you drove there in the rain you were fine, but of some reason, today you lost control and bumped into that lamppost. Damn. No real reason to this except for a million parts of small molecules in a different combination than usual. Just thank the man in the moon for saving your sorry ass... :grin:

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Agreed, Shyone. His book was just about the best I have read on Atheism thus far. And I've been swallowing books whole for a while now. His chapter on skepticism was what lead me to start the discussion.

 

Seems I will just have to play the game. I've asked where it was leading, and what side he was fighting for and asked him to tel me plainly whether he was arguing for faith or not. We'll have to see. So far, it hasn't been making any sense. Whether his words are nonsensical, intentionally confusing, or a lack of understanding on my part... I'm not sure it makes a difference.

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Agreed, Shyone. His book was just about the best I have read on Atheism thus far. And I've been swallowing books whole for a while now. His chapter on skepticism was what lead me to start the discussion.

 

Seems I will just have to play the game. I've asked where it was leading, and what side he was fighting for and asked him to tel me plainly whether he was arguing for faith or not. We'll have to see. So far, it hasn't been making any sense. Whether his words are nonsensical, intentionally confusing, or a lack of understanding on my part... I'm not sure it makes a difference.

I get frustrated with some philosophical arguments. They create confusing scenarios that twist reality into fantasy, then they can do whatever they want with reality, even inventing concepts that have no basis in reality.

 

I've seen the arguments in different forms before, even on this forum. Let's see, the threads "The Things Science Can't Prove" is one, and there are some others I can't recall that deal with the idea that some things depend on axioms instead of being independently "provable", and from there they try to establish that these axioms exist because of God. I never made that connection. It doesn't make sense to me because the axioms, even though not derived from reason, are supported by reason in that if the axioms weren't true, nothing derived using the axioms would be true and we could know that independently through reason.

 

That, of course, does not apply to situations where one posits a being and then uses circular arguments to support their position.

 

1. Logic exists and is unprovable

2. Some logical basis is required

3. God is that logical basis

4. We know this because there is logic.

 

Huh?

 

It's illogical!

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However, though reason has shown that denying one's existence is actually undeniable it has not, and cannot, prove that my existence is logically necessary (is actual; in other words, it must exist by necessity).

 

Necessity of what?

 

From a physical evolutionary perspective it is not necessary that humans in general or I in particular exist. The fact that I in particular exist is a lucky accident of a particular sperm and egg finding each other. I'm here because mom did not have a head ache one night.

 

From a strictly logical point of view he is sort of correct. Godel's Theorem states that within any mathematical (logical) system there will be axioms that cannot be proven using that system. That does not mean that the system cannot produce any truth. Any logical system contains more truth then the system itself can prove. The mind itself can be thought of as this sort of a closed system in that it cannot prove it's existence even though it exists. So the argument could be there must be a larger system (perhaps god) in which this system (me) can be proven.

 

The problem with your opponents argument is that such a proof is not necessary, and in any case is contrary to the Theorem. It is contrary because the larger system will also contain axioms that cannot be proven using that system.

 

Another way to think about this is that is that Godel has shown that provability is a weaker notion than truth. You opponent seems to have turned this around. If your opponent insists that you prove your existence, punch him in the nose.

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